Breaking down last season's freeski news, from ski film festivals to Gus Kenworthy's coming-out. It's all here in the 2015/16 Season Review: Part 1.
It’s that time of the year again: the birds are singing, the flowers are blooming, and unless you’re heading to the high alpine or migrating to the Southern Hemisphere, chances are that your ski season is over. But if the summer heat is making you feel nostalgic for winter, here are some of the most memorable moments from last season, to help you keep your ski dreams alive for the winter to come.
Ski films & festivals
The early fall is prime time for ski movies and excitement for the season to come as skiers gather for film festivals like the High Five in Annecy and the iF3 in Montréal. Last year both festivals paid tribute to fallen freeski legend JP Auclair, while showcasing the best new ski cinematography from the likes of JF Houle, Clayton Vila, Good Company and more.
Downdays October 2015 issue
Meanwhile, our editorial staff was hard at work putting out the first issue of the Downdays magazine for the 15/16 season. Featuring Swiss ripper Jérémie Heitz on the cover, the October 2015 Downdays issue includes feature stories from Sam Smoothy’s “Bolivian Diary,” Nimbus Independent in Europe, Atomic’s Blank Canvas project, and a thinkpiece on the monoski—distributed for free, as always, to ski shops and events across Europe (find out how to get your copy here).
Gus Kenworthy comes out
On October 22, with the help of a cover story in ESPN: The Magazine, top freeskier Gus Kenworthy broke the news that he is gay. The coming-out of the sport’s most talented and competitive athletes was was a milestone moment for skiing and for action sports in general, which can correctly be described as bro-cultures where homophobic attitudes still find refuge. At once elevated from Olympic-medalist fame to gay-icon fame, Gus rode the wave of attention into the 15/16 contest season with one goal in mind—to be the best skier he could be, and maybe smash a few stereotypes along the way.
Downdays European Skier of the Year
In November our online readers crowned the 2015 Downdays European Male and Female Skiers of the Year: Noah Albaladejo and Lisa Zimmermann. After years of toiling in the underground, Noah enjoyed a breakout season in 2014/15 with a win at the B&E Invitational and a segment with Level 1 Productions, while Lisa continued to push women’s progression with her switch double 1080.
Legs of Steel Release PASSENGER
At the end of November, the Innsbruck-based Legs of Steel crew released their highly anticipated two-year project “PASSENGER” to rave reviews. One of the best ski filmmaking efforts from the Continent in years, PASSENGER follows the veterans of the LOS crew on their traipses and travails across the world, with groundbreaking segments in both the park and big-mountain categories that not even goofy narration can spoil. If you still haven’t seen it yet, here’s the trailer to assuage your pain.
Prime Park Sessions
Meanwhile on the glaciers of Europe, the early-season parks were open for those chomping at the bit. As has become the norm of late, the Prime Park Sessions on the Stubai Glacier stole the spotlight with a top-level training ground for the world’s elite (and anyone else who can afford the hefty entrance fees). Check out the official highlight clip for evidence of why Stubai has become a fall magnet for both current and would-be freeski superstars.
Downdays December issue
Early December saw the release of the winter’s second Downdays print issue. With an adventurous touring trip to Albania’s well-named “Accursed Mountains,” a Russian street rails photo feature and a Legs of Steel in AK gallery, the December mag offered a healthy mix of freeskiing’s various pursuits. Memorable quote from the issue: “The best advice no one ever gave me was ‘Don’t be a Dickhead!'”
Breckenridge Dew Tour
In December the 2015/16 contest season kicked off with the Winter Dew Tour at Breckenridge. Gus Kenworthy skied through a snowstorm to claim the first major slopestyle podium of the year, while David Wise took the pipe contest. Ayana Onozuka won the women’s halfpipe, and Kelly Sildaru kicked off what was to become a trailblazing contest season for the 13-year-old Estonian wunderkind, winning the women’s slopestyle with a unbelievably high-level run.
The Drought of 2015
To say that the 2015-16 ski season got off to a “bad start” in Europe would be a laughable understatement. Countries across the Continent saw record-breaking high temperatures and low precipitation levels throughout the fall. The Alps were particularly hard-hit, with a mean temperature of 6.6°C above average in December. “In Austria’s mountains it was the warmest December in reported history,” reported climatologist Alexander Orlik of the Austrian Zentralanstalt für Meteorologie und Geodynamik (ZAMG). “Such an extreme variation from the average has not been observed in any month since measurements began.”
With many low-elevation resorts still closed, holiday crowds were greeted by grassy meadows instead of snowy slopes. Only the glaciers, other high-elevation ski areas, and resorts with extensive snowmaking capacity were able to get the lifts running. On New Year’s Eve, much of Austria was still under a fireworks ban due to increased fire risk. The skies above the country’s towns, usually bursting with light and rockets flying in every direction, were eerily silent as the New Year began.
However, in the “It’s Not All Bad” department, much of the French and Swiss Alps were able to mostly avoid the troubles of their counterparts to the east, catching a few clutch Atlantic storms and lower temperatures that kept the mountains around the Mont Blanc Massiv coated in white. Meanwhile, glaciers and high-alpine resorts across the region were able to scrape together enough snow to provide adequate conditions for their customers. Nevertheless, it was more apparent than ever that the skier’s way of life is increasingly threatened by climate change.
Not to end Part 1 on a depressing note: the New Year 2016 brought sweet relief to many of Europe’s ski resorts, with storms piling up throughout January to deliver some much-needed snow coverage across the Alps as ski season kicked into full swing. But for that, you’ll have to wait for Part 2.